Friday, April 13, 2007

Killing Coyotes

I recently wrote a fiction book (a leveled reader) about coyotes for a fourth-grade unit on ecosystems, to be published by McGraw-Hill. It was one of the most enjoyable stories I have ever written, mostly because I have always loved coyotes.

Having lived most of my life in areas where coyotes are common -- and generally demonized -- I tend to side with the coyotes because most of the time they are being scapegoated. Much of the rationale for the hunting and slaughter of coyotes is simply wrong.

I found this last night at the Mental Floss blog, which seemed a bit of synchronicity after also finding a page for the documentary, Killing Coyotes (see below).

Coyotes: They’re Just Like Us

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I know this is an animal post, but it’s not exactly ripped from the annals of Cute Overload. A coyote recently entered a Quiznos in downtown Chicago, heading straight for the drinks cooler, where he remained lodged until he was brutally (it’s not just me–watch the video) removed by an Animal Control officer. I know coyotes attack, but is this kind of treatment really necessary? It was cowering next to a row of SoBe Leans–most likely wounded and described by witnesses as “passive.” In almost all the coverage, some kind of roadrunner joke was made. Which is fine. But is that to rationalize the violent wrangling? Coyotes aren’t exactly strangers to city life. According to studies conducted by Stanley Gehrt, who teaches environmental and natural resources at Ohio State, coyotes who live in cities are are integral in controlling the population of Canadian Geese and irksome city vermin. In addition, city dogs live longer:

  • Urban coyotes survive far longer than their rural cousins. A coyote living in urban Chicago has a 60-percent chance of surviving for one year, while a rural coyote has a 30 percent chance of living for another year.
  • Most coyotes pose little threat to humans. The problems generally start when people feed coyotes, even if that feeding is unintentional.
Coyotes seldom attack humans unless they are rabid, which is far more likely in rural areas than in urban areas. They also do not generally hunt livestock. They do however scavenge for sick and wounded animals, or those already dead. The hunting of coyotes is sanctioned by the government because ranchers have successfully argued that the song-dogs kill livestock, despite all the actual evidence to the contrary.

U.S. Filmmaker Doug Hawes-Davis has produced Killing Coyotes, a documentary (2000) on the slaughter of coyotes in the American West.

Some reviews:
"The film's strongest point is made by science. Several biologists report that the widespread killing of coyotes....backfires. Successful kills of up to 30 percent may result in greater losses for the sheep or cattle rancher...So much for trying to fool mother nature." Eugene Weekly

"Why hunt coyotes? As a means of 'pest control,' hunting coyotes is pointless and ineffectual. Yet, coyote hunting remains a widespread practice. Why? As this well-crafted documentary illustrates, the coyote remains a popular scapegoat largely due to ignorance, ill-founded tradition, and most troubling of all, human nature."
Timothy McGettigan, Ph.D., Department of Sociology, Colorado State University-Pueblo

"An artful and intelligent look at the unending assault open the American coyote. Nearly 400,000 coyotes are shot, trapped, and poisoned every year, but the resilient creature continues to eke out an existence in the dusty West. The film shows a rich and varied series of perspectives on the issue, from the hunters who feel it is their God-given right to kill anything they please to the overeager and self-righteous animal rights activists to the absurd Wildlife Services office that siphons off tax-dollars to fund cyanide cannons. Along the way, Hawes-Davis encounters biologists who theorize that the constant hunting of the coyotes actually leads to their continued success, since the survival rate of the coyote litters increases. With a deft hand and the good-sense to the let the colorful characters do the talking, Hawes-Davis reveals a remarkable, brutal, frequently hilarious, and 100% American tale." www.cduniverse.com

Here is the trailer:



The stupid thing about hunting and killing coyotes is that they are engineered to survive. The more they are hunted and oppressed, the larger the yearly litter of new pups. They respond to their environment. If their populations are low in a given area, each female will produce more pups to ensure the survival of the species. If the populations are normal or high, litter size is smaller to ensure that there will be enough food to go around.

Part of the reason that coyotes do so well in rural areas is that their natural predators (mountain lions, bears, wolves) have been hunted to extinction. Part of the reason they have become urban dwellers is because humans continually encroach upon wild areas with new homes, chasing the animals into new habitats -- and because they are so adaptable, they do well eating from dumpsters or scavenging dog food from backyards.

Coyotes are probably the best example of the conflict between human settlement and wild lands. We cannot continue to eliminate wild areas and not expect the animals to go someplace. And when we do slaughter coyotes and other predators, the populations of animals they hunt (deer, rabbits, rodents, and so on) will explode and then also become a problem.

Nature is a well-balanced system -- until you begin to mess around with it.


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